Ajax stun Italian giant Juventus to reach Champions League Semis

Ajax’s sensational Champions League run continued as teenage captain Matthijs de Ligt’s goal eliminated Juventus and secured their place in the semi-finals. They produced a stunning turnaround to reach their first UEFA Champions League semi-final since 1996/97.

Juventus had been looking to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the third time in the past five seasons.

Cristiano Ronaldo, bidding for his sixth Champions League title, scored a 28th-minute header to put Juve ahead after a 1-1 first-leg draw, but Donny van de Beek levelled for Ajax before half-time. Teenage centre-back De Ligt struck midway through the second period, though, to seal a 3-2 aggregate win and set up a last-four clash with either Manchester City or Tottenham.

Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time winner of the tournament, headed the hosts in front from a first-half corner. But Ajax battled level as Donny van de Beek controlled Hakim Ziyech’s shot and slotted past Wojciech Szczesny. Ziyech went close after the break before De Ligt, up from the back, scored a decisive, powerful header.

The away-goals rule left Juventus needing two in the remaining 23 minutes, but it could have been even more comfortable for the visitors in the closing stages with David Neres shooting wide and Ziyech flagged offside after whipping a smart shot into the top corner.

Ronaldo, who picked up a late yellow card for a frustrated lunge at Joel Veltmans, stalked off the pitch at the final whistle, having been knocked out of the competition for the first time since Juventus beat his previous club Real Madrid in May 2015.

Ajax had beaten Real Madrid in similar circumstances in the previous round and produced another inspired road showing, overwhelming Juve in the second half and winning thanks to a towering header from 19-year-old captain Matthijs De Ligt.

“It’s an incredible evening for Ajax and its players and also for Dutch football,” said coach Erik ten Hag.

“Once again we eliminated the favourites. “We said before we were not the favourites but with our philosophy we can go further, we’ve again surpassed our limits.” he added.

Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana dived to keep out a scorching Dybala half-volley in the 20th minute. But Ronaldo latched onto a Miralem Pjanic corner with a downward header that left Onana with no chance.

But Van de Beek silenced the home crowd when he controlled a wayward Hakim Ziyech shot six minutes later, rolling the ball past Szczesny to cancel out Juventus’ away goal and make it 2-2 on aggregate.

Teenage striker Moise Kean replaced Dybala after the break, but it was the Dutch who turned on the style, with only Szczesny’s reflexes keeping Juventus in the tie. Juventus back-line struggled with the pace of the Dutch team with Pjanic doing well to deny Ziyech a tap-in.

But Ten Hag’s side’s incessant pressure paid off with 19-year-old skipper De Ligt towering above Alex Sandro and Daniele Rugani to head home Lasse Schone’s corner on 67 minutes.

Ziyech looked as if he had fired a third past Szczesny, but his goal was ruled offside after a VAR check.

And Ajax held on, with Ronaldo unable to make a difference after his incredible hat-trick had pulled Juventus into the quarter-finals in the last-16 win over Atletico Madrid.

Four-time winners Ajax won their third consecutive title in 1973 at the expense of Juventus, and last lifted the trophy in 1995, with their last semi-final appearance ending in defeat by Juve 22 years ago.

 

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